19 August 2010

COIN or Nation-Building?

Small Wars Journal linked to a number of great articles coming out of the Council on Foreign Relations regarding the War in Afghanistan.  Of note was an interview with Colonel Gian Gentile, in which he discusses Afghanistan in a strategic context, and stresses the need for the military to match resources to policy objectives.  While that's certainly an agreeable notion, I took issue with one aspect of the interview:

The problem in terms of strategy is that we have a mismatch. The president's political objectives are actually quite limited, but his military has offered up really a maximalist operational method of nation-building to achieve those very limited political objectives. That's the stalemated nature of the situation in Afghanistan.
Certainly, this was the Obama-McChrystal dynamic, with General McChrystal seeking a far larger troop commitment, and President Obama attempting to extricate himself from the conflict.  Yet, others have their say as well.  Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has, at times, preferred a grander approach (though not as large as General McChrystal's vision), while General David Petraeus has been offering minimal strategic goals for the past year and a half.  In an interview with Fareed Zakaria, General Petraeus said:

It might be more effective if we just, out loud, said, "We're not trying to turn Afghanistan into Switzerland; we're not trying to make it into an advanced, Western, industrialized democracy in the next few years." What the president is trying to convey is, again, limitations on our aspirations, and what it is we're trying to accomplish. I think that's reasonable. One of the outcomes of this presidential review was a pretty realistic appraisal of what is possible, what is doable; and that should be an important element that informs one's strategy.
For more on the "Tell me how this ends" plan for Afghanistan, check out Spencer Ackerman's interview with General Petraeus at Wired.com.  And don't miss the awesome Afghanistan timeline slideshow at CFR. 

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